Image: Texty Cafe/Flickr licensed under Creative Commons
Before you hit send on your next journalism job application, run through this check list:
- Read the job description again.
In my job description I asked potential candidates to send me examples of their previous writing, three feature ideas for the website and their expected fee. Only one applicant sent me all of those things. I also received a number of emails addressed to “Dear Sir/Madam” or, worse, “Dear Sirs” when the job description stated “Please send your application to Olivia Pinnock.”
As well as showing you’ve followed basic instructions, you can use the job description as a check list for your cover letter. For every skill they ask for, write a sentence in your cover letter that demonstrates you have it.
- Delete any irrelevant information from your CV.
This is career advice that I have received repeatedly since I was 16 so I’m always slightly amazed when I see it happening. Only include your relevant experience on a CV. Many of us have day jobs to support our writing work when we’re starting out, or juggle different roles to make a full salary, so create separate CVs for your different areas of experience.
I feel many junior journalists do this because they’re worried they don’t have enough experience to fill a whole CV. Pad it out by including work experience alongside any relevant full time jobs. I’d rather see a short CV that lists a journalism internship and the blog they run than five full time jobs in shops and bars followed by a quick mention of their blog at the very bottom. It’s likely I won’t even scroll to the bottom if you don’t have a relevant job listed.
Always ask someone to check your CV for spelling and grammar after every edit you make to it. You are more likely to attach your CV without looking at it so make sure it’s perfect first.
- Walk away from your screen, come back 10 minutes later and read your application again.
If you’re applying for a writing job, I’m not going to even look at your CV if there are spelling mistakes or typos in your cover letter. Of course, journalists are not exempt from ever making mistakes but any good writer knows that subbing your own work is not a good idea as you tend to read what you think you wrote and not what you actually wrote.
However, it isn’t always possible to have a sub to hand for every job application you submit. If you’re checking your application yourself, give yourself a break from the screen, make a cup of tea, and come back with fresh eyes. It can be tempting in the excitement of imagining yourself in your dream job to fire off your application as quickly as possible to be on the top of the pile. However, applying with a cool head and well-structured sentences is a smarter move.
- Look at the company’s website.
I can’t stress how important this is. When I’m scouting candidates, the first thing I look for is people who have the relevant skills and experience, the second thing I look for is people who share the passion and vision of the company. It was painfully obvious to me that many of the candidates in this recent round had not even looked at our website, never mind shared an interest in the topics we write about.
Don’t be afraid to be obvious about the fact that you’ve done your research. Tell me what you like about our publication, reference articles that you enjoyed, follow our social media pages and explain what we have in common with you. Recruitment is a two-way thing; we want to impress you as much as you impress us so that we can both get the best out of the partnership.
- Ask yourself; how can I go beyond what they’re asking for?
Providing what is asked for in the job description is the minimum you should submit if you really want this job. I once received feedback at an interview that they invited me in because I was the only person who had included suggested feature ideas in my application, despite it not being requested in the job description, so I know this works.
Journalism is a portfolio career, which means that even if the job description doesn’t ask for writing samples, you should send them anyway. As well as sending a portfolio, why not write a short piece (no more than 200 words) specifically for your job application to show how you can adapt your writing style to this publication? Yes, it’s more time consuming but it shows that you understand what’s required in this job and that you really want it.
These may sound like basic pieces of advice but we’re all guilty of getting tired and disheartened during the job search and, as a result, getting lazy with our applications. It is a crowded marketplace out there but you’ll be surprised at how following the basics can get you ahead.